Isla and her latest adventure

With three national titles to her name, Isla has achieved almost everything you can in the world of Cyclo-cross. Recently, however, she has noticed some developments in the ’cross scene which might be putting people off what is otherwise one of the most accessible and welcoming branches of cycle sport. So Isla and the wider Islabikes family are taking steps to keep Cyclo-cross simple, including a new approach to racing in which Isla cycles or takes the train to the majority of events and uses the minimum of kit.

“Cyclo-cross is probably the branch of cycle sport that’s closest to my heart,” Isla says. “One of the great benefits of ’cross is its accessibility. Cyclo-cross races are run on a time format rather than distance, so regardless of your ability you only compete for a set amount of time. At the grassroots in local leagues Cyclo-cross is multi-generational; you’ve got children racing, mums and dads, and even grandparents. Sometimes there can be three generations of the same family at the same event all taking part, which is absolutely fantastic.”

“the sport involves cycling over lots of different surfaces such as through fields, in the woods, sometimes with short sections of tarmac”

However, in the last few years Isla started becoming a little uncomfortable with one direction that Cyclo-cross racing has taken. For people unfamiliar with Cyclo-cross racing, the sport involves cycling over lots of different surfaces such as through fields, in the woods, sometimes with short sections of tarmac and with areas where competitors have to get off and run with their bikes. If it happens to be a very muddy event, the mud can actually clog up bikes and stop them working. However, ’cross racers are allowed to have multiple bikes and there are pit areas with teams of people working for each rider, cleaning their bikes every lap. Because of this, elite riders have always exchanged bikes during the race if it’s very muddy although local level riders didn’t.

Catch up with Isla and her latest adventure

“At elite level, swapping bikes is understandable,” Isla says. “But over the years that same approach has crept into the local level. So now at local events you’ll find there is a large pit area where lots of participants have two bikes, and are perpetually jet washing using barrels and barrels of water. It just feels a ridiculous amount of stuff for what is supposed to be an accessible form of racing.”

“Then, because there is all this stuff that is apparently needed for racing, people are bringing bigger and bigger vehicles to transport it all. Now the event car parks are struggling to cope, so combined with my increasing consciousness about environment sustainability issues, I started to feel uncomfortable about all of this.”

“When I was racing at elite level I was guilty of taking lots of kit to races because it seemed that was a necessary part of competing at the highest level. I’d get two bikes in my van and several sets of spare wheels with different tyres on for different conditions. Then I’d pack the jet wash and fill up three aquarolls full of water. I’d also have to pack the rollers for warming up. Then after the race I’d get home tired on a Sunday night and have to unpack and clean it all. It was just such a performance that it was putting me off bothering to continue to participate. Personally I was getting fed up with all the faff involved.”

“When I was racing at elite level I was guilty of taking lots of kit to races because it seemed that was a necessary part of competing at the highest level.”

But there was also a third element, too. Isla realised that this changing atmosphere at races was discouraging new people from taking part in Cyclo-cross.

“Talking to colleagues at work and other friends who are cyclists, they were saying: I fancy having a go at Cyclo-cross but I don’t fancy having to buy two bikes. They didn’t feel that they would be able to compete equally without all that. It even filtered down to children racing at Cyclo-cross events. That didn’t sit well with me in terms of Cyclo-cross being inclusive and encouraging.”

“Talking to colleagues at work and other friends who are cyclists, they were saying: I fancy having a go at Cyclo-cross but I don’t fancy having to buy two bikes.”

Isla’s answer is One Bike ’Cross, an innovation Islabikes has launched initially with the West Midlands Cyclo-Cross League and hopes will be picked up by other event organisers across the country.

Catch up with Isla and her latest adventure

“I thought that at local level, without any organisational burden for the local organisers and commissaires, we could get people to tick a column when they sign on that says they are opting to compete using only one bike,” Isla explains. “That can be acknowledged in the results, so those people can compete against each other on a level playing field. We also have armbands for any riders who are competing on one bike at any event. So anybody can get an armband from us and show that they are ’cross racing on just one bike.”

Naturally, One Bike ’Cross is a development that has been gladly adopted by the Islabikes colleagues Cyclo-cross team. However, by taking environmental sustainability to an even greater level, it has helped Isla rejuvenate and refresh her own approach to racing.

“I hadn’t done much ‘cross racing myself in recent years partly because I wanted to do other things and partly because of that whole element of faffing around with kit. This year, though, I thought I’d compete and do the One Bike ’Cross approach.”

“But another element of getting to races that I don’t particularly like is driving everywhere. So this year I thought I’d also try and cycle to races where I could and get trains where I couldn’t.”

“I’ve gone from having a van full of stuff to just my bike and a little rucksack with waterproofs and my sandwiches. It takes me about 10 minutes to pack before setting off and five minutes to unpack when I get home. I’m absolutely loving it and I get a bike ride in at either end of the journey as well as the racing.”

“For example, on the weekend of October 8th and 9th I took the train to Manchester for the Cycling UK annual get together on Saturday. Then I got the train to Derby on Saturday evening and stayed there overnight. I raced in Derby for the first round of the National Trophy Cyclo-cross Series on Sunday morning. Then I took the train back home to Ludlow on Sunday afternoon. And all just with a little rucksack.”

“I really like the simplicity of it and the focus for me has completely changed. I go to the races because I still like the sensation of racing and I meet old friends, so there’s a social element to it. But overall, the whole day out and everything that goes along with it has become an experience in itself. I’m enjoying all of the day now rather than just the focal point of the race. What it’ll be like when the weather gets bad I don’t know, but we’ll see,” Isla laughs.

And just to prove you can still be competitive without sacrificing performance even with this pared down, simplistic approach to racing: Isla won her category.

If you would like to ride One Bike ‘Cross in your area, please contact us for a free arm band on +44 (0)800 008 6297 or email info@islabikes.co.uk.

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